I was invited to deliver a 1-day seminar on cross cultural management to a group of leaders, as part of an extensive leadership development program. The company is leader in its field, and the managers are sharp and ambitious.
A topic like cross-cultural management can easily become academic and theoretic, and leadership trainings are sometimes wasting both time and money, because the knowledge is not put into action. That is of course not allowed to happen.

This is what we did:

First, we picked the right reference material: Erin Meyer’s Culture Map. The book is entertaining and practical in nature, and it comes with a web app that allows real time mapping of the cultures you work with. Before the seminar, the participants read the book, and did a self-assessment on the web. Some read everything, others skimmed through the book. That was fine, the participants understood enough to engage in a full day seminar as follows:

08:00 AM. We took the first two hours to review the theory. This was not a lecture but a two-way conversation and discussion, using practical examples from everyday life of the participants to illustrate what the theory is all about.

10:00 AM. We worked on a business case study. The advantage of this step is that you let the participants practice on a case that is simpler and easier than the messy real-life situations we find ourselves in. It also allows to continue to draw parallels with real life of the participants, as they crack the case, and we debrief on the usage of the tools. The goal is to get as quickly as possible to do real work, with the new concepts, tools, and methods that the participants are learning about.

This happened to us at….

01:00 PM. We devoted the entire afternoon to participants cases. One person shared a real life urgent and important issue involving a client, a reseller, a production division, a project team, and a discontinued product. All the stakeholders were from different countries, and different cultural background. The case was presented by the global business development manager, who had the real-life responsibility of the issue. The participants’ task was to use their newfound knowledge and theories to help the case giver.

The first thing that happened was that everyone started sharing good ideas and opinions, of which most had nothing to do with cross cultural management. “Call Steve in supply chain, he is a good guy, he will help you” was one of the advices given. The case-giver did not find it helpful. This is not a negative judgment of the quality of the participants. On the contrary, it is a sign that they are skilled and accomplished.

The more you know, and the deeper your knowledge is, the harder it is to learn new things. If you are a real wizard with the hammer, every problem you see looks like a nail. That is how we function.

Now, I am suggesting the screwdriver…

So, we brought ourselves back to task: Use knowledge about cross cultural management to help the case giver. This is not easy. But the first questions regarding the dynamic started to form. Some small hypothesis started to emerge. The behavior started to shift towards asking questions instead of venting opinions. Before we knew it, the group was collaborating intensely to help the case-giver, taking a structured, rational approach to solve a real business problem through the lens of cross-cultural management.

My value as a facilitator, and I use facilitator deliberately, as opposed to consultant or trainer, is that I help the participants to take the step from having acquired new knowledge, to applying that new knowledge for the first time. It is difficult to do that on your own.

The final outcome? By co-incidence, the case-giver received a call regarding the case, from the client, and could implement some new ideas right on the spot. That helped. He was delighted. The participants rated the seminars one of the best days and topics out of 20 in the program. They were delighted too.

This is difficult to do on your own, but not impossible. Next time you learn something, whether you watch a ted-talk, read a book, or take an on-line course, you can do this afterwards, to help you go from acquiring knowledge to putting it into action:

Write down on a piece of paper:

1. What is the knowledge useful for in my job (or life)?

2. What action can I take to put it to work?

3. How can I evaluate if the application of my new knowledge was impactful?

These questions are not always easy to answer, and it takes a bit of time. Do it together with someone, it is easier, and more fun. Think about how much knowledge that you have acquired over the past years, how much time you spent on it, and how much you actually have put into action that change your behavior and performance. It will be worth the efforts.

Call me if you have questions or comments.